Artifacts at biblical Corinth: Jewish Presence

December 18, 2019

Fant and Reddish make these interesting observations about biblical Corinth:

No city in the ancient world both benefited and suffered from its location more than Corinth. Situated on the main north-south route between northern and southern Greece, and with two good ports that linked it to Italy on the west and Asia Minor on the east, Corinth quickly became a center for commerce. But the location of Corinth also had its downside. The city often found itself caught in the middle between hostile neighbors, Athens to the north and Sparta to the south. Armies crisscrossed its streets as often as merchants, and more than once the city had to arise from ashes and rubble. Today only Athens attracts more interest in Greece for its historic antiquities than Corinth. It ranks as a must-see location for every traveler to Greece. (A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey, p.45).

Synagogue Inscription. There is a section of a lintel with a partial inscription, [Syna] goge hebr [aion], “Synagogue of the Hebrews.”

Synagogue Inscription at Corinth. Corinth Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

It is thought that this artifact is to be dated as late Roman or early Byzantine, and hence would post-date the time of the Apostle Paul.

But the Bible shows there was certainly a Jewish presence at Corinth in Paul’s day. In fact, upon Paul’s arrival there (2nd Missionary Journey), he stayed with fellow-tent-makers Aquila and Priscilla, who were Jews, and were there “because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome” (Acts 18:1-2). Claudius was emperor AD 41-54.

Roman Emperor Claudius. Istanbul Archaeology Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The text in Acts 18 continues, relating Paul’s “reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath” (v.4), and also including brief notation of the conversion of Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue:

3 and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers. 4 And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5 But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. 6 But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 Then he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized. (Acts 18:3-8).

 

Capital with Menorahs and Palm Branches. There is also on display at the museum there at Corinth a capital decorated with menorahs and palm branches. It is thought that this once decorated the top of a pillar, probably from the synagogue.

Capital with menorahs and palm branches. Corinth Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Paul’s one desire was to live in such a manner as to save as many as possible, whether Jews or Gentiles:

“To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” (1 Cor.  9:20-22).

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Paul’s Usage of Isthmian Games as Illustration

December 11, 2019

The Apostle Paul asked and answered a rhetorical question:

24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:27-27).

To illustrate the great effort and focus that should be expended and maintained for what Paul terms “an imperishable crown,” he points to the games (apparently the Isthmian games) as an example. The Isthmian Games were similar to the Olympic Games, and took place every two years at Isthmia near Corinth. This illustration would have struck home to Paul’s Corinthian audience.

Location of Isthmia in proximity to Corinth. Wikimedia Commons.

Our photo shows the ancient site of Isthmia. In addition to the excavation that may be seen here, at center (and slightly right, indicated by vertical metal stakes) you may see the Classical stadium starting line for the runners.

Ancient Isthmia. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The Isthmian Games occurred every two years and should have occurred during Paul’s stay (Acts 18:11); they were held in the spring of 49 and 51 C.E. When combined with the imperial games every fourth year (i.e., every other celebration of the Isthmian Games), the Isthmian Games were the Great (as opposed to the Lesser) Isthmia. There were four Greek games, often mentioned together: the Olympic, the Pythian, the Nemean, and the Isthmian. The Isthmian “were the most splendid and best attended” of the pan-Hellenic festivals next to the quadrennial Olympics.

Whether or not Paul attended the Isthmian Games, which would have occurred during his stay there, he would have known about them, and it seems plausible that he would have made use of them somehow to reach people passing through, as Diogenes the Cynic reportedly did. The Isthmian Games were well known among educated urban people throughout the Roman world. Large numbers would gather from many diverse cities, discussing current events, at the Isthmian Games (Polyb. 18.46.1). (Both genders would also be present.) Many gave readings and orations besides other entertainments; a local preacher might be ignored by the Corinthians, who were accustomed to him, yet draw a crowd of visitors. It was a strategic place to make announcements that would reach all Greece. (Keener, C. S., 2014. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: 15:1–23:35 Vol. 3, pp. 2758–2760. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic).

Paul referred to the “perishable crown” that was awarded to the winner of the race. This may be visualized by our photo here:

A “perishable” crown. Wreath given to the victor, a Greek athlete. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Our photo features a close up of the head of a running athlete and dates back to the late Hellenistic period. This statue was retrieved from the Aegean Sea off the coast of Kyme, and is displayed at the Izmir Museum (biblical Smyrna).

Salvation is by grace through faith. At the same time God rightfully expects total commitment and devotion to Him.

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The Philopappos Monument, Athens, Greece

August 30, 2019

In Acts 17, when Paul preached at Athens, he was taken to the Areopagus where he was invited to explain what the Athenians called “this new teaching” (Acts 17:16-19). We have previously posted on Paul’s sermon at the Areopagus here and here.

In this post we want to notice one of the many sites you can see while standing atop the Areopagus. Here is the view looking to the southwest.

Hill of Philopappus, Athens Greece. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The Hill of Philopappus is also called Mouseion Hill. Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappus (AD 65-116) was a prince from the Kingdom of Commagene (northern Syria), and a Roman consul and senator, as well as grandson of Antiochos IV. At his death a white Pentelic marble tomb monument was dedicated to him by his sister Julia Babilla and the citizens of Athens. Here is a closer view:

Funerary Monument of Philopappus. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

This of course is just one of many major landmarks in Athens. Near the monument are the remains of a prison where it is claimed that Socrates was imprisoned and died.

Lonely Planet makes this observation regarding this hill:

Inhabited from prehistoric times to the post-Byzantine era, the area was, according to Plutarch, the area where Theseus and the Amazons did battle. In the 4th and 5th centuries BC, defensive fortifications – such as the Themistoclean wall and the Diateichisma – extended over the hill, and some of their remains are still visible. (Lonelyplanet.com).

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The Hearing Ear

May 16, 2019

Solomon said, “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, The LORD has made them both” (Pro. 20:12). The NLT reads, “Ears to hear and eyes to see–both are gifts from the LORD.” Much is said in the Bible about using one’s ears to hear, to truly listen, and in particular to hear God’s word; to hear words of wisdom.

Here are some selected texts, for example, from the Proverbs:

2:1 My son, if you receive my words, And treasure my commands within you,

3:3 My son, do not forget my law, But let your heart keep my commands;

4:1 Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, And give attention to know understanding;

7:24 Now therefore, listen to me, my children; Pay attention to the words of my mouth:

8:6 Listen, for I will speak of excellent things, And from the opening of my lips will come right things;

8:32 ” Now therefore, listen to me, my children, For blessed are those who keep my ways.

13:1 A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.

18:1 A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages against all wise judgment.

19:20 Listen to counsel and receive instruction, That you may be wise in your latter days.

23:22 Listen to your father who begot you, And do not despise your mother when she is old.

At Corinth, Greece, there is a museum on site with artifacts from the area. Included are some “offerings” to the healing god Asclepius (spelling varies) which were left at the god’s temple there at Corinth. The idea was that if one had been healed of his/her affliction they would then bring an offering in the form of that body part which had been restored.

Votive offering, an ear. On site museum at Corinth Greece. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Sign explaining the display. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

A fragment on display contains the name of the god. Greek letters transliterate, ASKL.

Sherd with Greek spelling of Asclepius. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

But it wasn’t Asclepius who made the ear, neither could he heal it. I’m put in mind of Paul’s referencing the former lives of the Galatians in their idolatry before they came to know the true God: “But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods” (Gal. 4:8).

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Thessalonian Politarch Inscription & its Bearing on Acts 17:6,8

February 21, 2018

Acts 17:6,8 mention the “rulers of the city” of Thessalonica, who beat and imprisoned Paul and Silas. Luke, the inspired writer of Acts, is a most careful historian. Different cities/districts used specific words to designate their rulers. Here Luke uses the word “politarch” (πολιτάρχης) which was a “very rare title for magistrates” (see Schaff below). Was Luke correct or was he mistaken?

Last month in London I was able to photograph a very important inscription, the Politarch Inscription of Thessalonica, removed from a Roman gateway of the city.

Inscription from Thessalonica using the word “politarchs” to designate rulers, as found in Acts 17:6,8. Photo ©Leon Mauldin. British Museum.

Church historian Philip Schaff, in a section entitled “The Acts and Secular History,” wrote:

The “politarchs” of Thessalonica, 17:6, 8 (Greek text: τοὺς πολιτάρχας, i.e., τοὺς ἄρχοντας τῶν πολιτῶν, praefectos civitatis, the rulers of the city).

This was a very rare title for magistrates, and might easily be confounded with the more usual designation “poliarchs.” But Luke’s accuracy has been confirmed by an inscription still legible on an archway in Thessalonica, giving the names of seven “politarchs” who governed before the visit of Paul.

The Thessalonian inscription in Greek letters is given by Boeckh. Leake, and Howson (in Conybeare and Howson’s Life and Letters of St. Paul, ch. IX., large Lond. ed., I. 860). Three of the names are identical, with those of Paul’s friends in that region-Sopater of Beraea (Acts 20:4), Gaius of Macedonia (19:29), and Secundus of Thessalonica (20:4). I will only give the first line:

ΠΟΛΕΙΤΑΡΧΟΥΝΤΩΝ ΣΩΣΙΠΑΤΡΟΥ ΤΟΥ ΚΛΕΟ. (Schaff, P., & Schaff, D. S. (1910). History of the Christian church (Vol. 1, p. 735). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Inscription in its original setting in Thessalonica. Photo ©Leon Mauldin. British Museum.

Schaff earlier in that section mentioned the significance and importance of such artifacts as pertains to the book of Acts:

Bishop Lightfoot asserts that no ancient work [as that of Acts, L.M.] affords so many tests of veracity, because no other has such numerous points of contact in all directions with contemporary history, politics, and typography, whether Jewish or Greek or Roman. The description of persons introduced in the Acts such as Gamaliel, Herod, Agrippa I., Bernice, Felix, Festus, Gallio, agrees as far as it goes entirely with what we know from contemporary sources. The allusions to countries, cities, islands, in Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy are without exception correct and reveal an experienced traveler. Ibid.732)

In other words, time and time again, Luke has been proven to be right! You can trust the Bible!

The British Museum Curator’s comments are interesting:

This large stone was built into a wall at the Vardar Gate of Thessalonica and was removed in 1877. The stone has been assumed to name city officials of the era. The inscription is important to New Testament scholars because it is one of the few stones that attests the existence of the office of politarch, mentioned in the Bible (Acts 17:6 and 8) and in only a few other literary sources. It is also curious because it mentions the mothers as well as the fathers of two of the politarchs. How the number of politarchs in this inscription should be counted varies among the modern editions; the translation here presents the usual interpretation of the inscription (see vom Brocke). (http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=398975&partId=1)

I should mention that this inscription is not regularly on display. It took three days to get an appointment to go into the room where is it housed, but it was worth it!

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Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi . . . More Background for Esther

September 20, 2017

The restored treasury of the Athenians at Delphi:

The Athenian Treasury was a votive building in the form of a reduced scale temple, designed to hold the multitude of Athenian offerings to the Delphi oracle. The building was constructed entirely of Parian marble and had a Doric frieze decorated with 30 metopes. It is a distyle in antis building with a porch before the entrance to the cella, measuring 10 x 6 meters.

The metopes depicted mythological themes of Theseus, Heracles, and Amazons in high relief. It is believed that two Athenian sculptors carved the metopes, each representing a distinct style or generation: one from the Archaic period, and one from the Severe style of classical art (the transition from Archaic to High Classical art). The walls of the treasury were inscribed with various texts, among which are the hymns to Apollo which included melody notation (see below).

Several dates for its construction have been suggested (with Pausanias mentioning that it was built after the battle of Marathon), but it is widely accepted that its was created sometime between 510 and 480 BCE, a period framed by the founding of the Athenian democracy and the defining battle of Marathon. (http://ancient-greece.org/museum/muse-delphi-athenians.html)

Delphi of course is “home of the famous oracle of Delphi, known as the Pythia, and the Temple of Apollo, where the oracle presided” (Fant, Clyde E.; Reddish, Mitchell G.. A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey, Kindle Locations 1180-1181).

Our photo here shows the treasury at left center:

Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Regarding the famous battle of Marathon, 490 BC, where the greatly outnumbered Greeks repelled and defeated the Persians, EyeWitnessHistory.com has the following info:

The battle of Marathon is one of history’s most famous military engagements. It is also one of the earliest recorded battles. Their victory over the Persian invaders gave the fledgling Greek city states confidence in their ability to defend themselves and belief in their continued existence. The battle is therefore considered a defining moment in the development of European culture.

In September of 490 BC a Persian armada of 600 ships disgorged an invasion force of approximately 20,000 infantry and cavalry on Greek soil just north of Athens. Their mission was to crush the Greek states in retaliation for their support of their Ionian cousins who had revolted against Persian rule.

Undaunted by the numerical superiority of the invaders, Athens mobilized 10,000 hoplite warriors to defend their territory. The two armies met on the Plain of Marathon twenty-six miles north of Athens. The flat battlefield surrounded by hills and sea was ideal for the Persian cavalry. Surveying the advantage that the terrain and size of their force gave to the Persians, the Greek generals hesitated.

One of the Greek generals – Miltiades – made a passionate plea for boldness and convinced his fellow generals to attack the Persians. Miltiades ordered the Greek hoplites to form a line equal in length to that of the Persians. Then – in an act that his enemy believed to be complete madness – he ordered his Greek warriors to attack the Persian line at a dead run. In the ensuing melee, the middle of the Greek line weakened and gave way, but the flanks were able to engulf and slaughter the trapped Persians. An estimated 6,400 Persians were slaughtered while only 192 Greeks were killed.

The remaining Persians escaped on their ships and made an attempt to attack what they thought was an undefended Athens. However, the Greek warriors made a forced march back to Athens and arrived in time to thwart the Persians. (http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/pfmarathon.htm)

In our title I suggested that these events give further background to the biblical book of Esther. In our post here we showed how in 480 BC, ten years after the Battle of Marathon, the Persian King Xerxes was building his forces to again attempt to subjugate Greece. The fact that Persia was still “smarting” after her humiliating defeat by Greece helps us to see the purpose and even urgency behind those opening verses of Esther (1:1-9), where Xerxes is meeting with officials from his 127 provinces, which ranged from India to Ethiopia.

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Syracuse, Mt. Etna, and Taromina, Sicily

March 13, 2016

Yesterday (Saturday) we visited the archaeological sites Syracuse, Sicily, and from there went on to Mt. Etna (Europe’s most active volcano), and then to Taromina. While at the Greek theater at Syracuse we took this group photo.

Group photo at Greek Theater at Syracuse, Sicily. Photo by David Deason.

Group photo at Greek Theater at Syracuse, Sicily. Photo by David Deason.

This theater was built in the 5th century BC.

The city of Syracuse was founded in 733 BC by Greek settlers from Corinth. Some names associated with Syracuse include Aeschylus, considered the father of the Greek tragedy. The philosopher Plato was in Syracuse. Syracuse was the birthplace of Archimedes, the famous mathematician and most influential scientist of the ancient world.

But actually none of those names brought us to this ancient site; rather it was its biblical mention in connection with Paul’s journey (as a prisoner) to Rome. Of that point in the journey Luke writes, “And landing at Syracuse, we stayed three days” (Acts 28:12).